Oakland Local and Oaktown Indie Mayhem present The Studio Series. One Oakland band, recorded in a local studio, highlighting the thriving local music community in our city.

The Church of Divine Illumination is not a recording studio. Jonah Strauss, however, has been recording wherever he can ever since a fire on March 21st left two men dead and three businesses — AK Press, 1984 Printing, and Strauss’s Shipwreck Studio — without homes.

The damage to Shipwreck Studio was predominately water damage incurred during the fight to stop the fire, though much of Strauss’s equipment was salvageable. While all the tenants of building on 23rd Street are stuck in a battle with their landlord over their right to return, Strauss is finding a way to stay in business through his ability to take his show on the road, preferably somewhere with high ceilings.

Strauss starting recording music as a teen. “I was 4-tracking in my parents basement, playing  guitar and singing mournful sounds about my girlfriend at the time,” said Strauss. 

He made a detour into lighting at music venues before getting back into recording while playing with his band in 2005. Recording his own band turned into recording friends’ bands, and so on. Eventually he built a control room in the warehouse he rented on 23rd Street, started getting back into tape machines and kept going from there.

Currently Strauss is sharing space at Santo Studio in West Oakland. At the time of the shooting of this video, however, Strauss struck a deal to shoot Ragana, an Oakland black metal duo comprised of Nicole Kurmina Gilson and Maria Stocke, at The Church of Divine Illumination. The church is set up for a variety of public events that occur under the radar of city regulations, a common theme with the artists of Oakland. Thankfully and coincidentally, the church’s abundance of pillows and foam squares used for other productions allowed Strauss to create makeshift barriers to isolate drums and guitar amplifiers from bleeding across microphones.

Strauss is keen to offer affordable rates to local unsigned bands, a way for artists to afford the big jump up from DIY recording of their own laptops to professional quality recordings. Working and living in the same space had afforded Strauss this opportunity, and is why Strauss plans to eventually hunt for his own building. When asked if he would ever consider leaving the increasingly costly Oakland, his answer was a resounding “F*** NO!”

The DIY setup, the church and and Strauss’s propensity for immense drum sounds fit nicely with Ragana’s vibe. Their song “Tired” was written by Stocke about the feelings that arise when people get her mother’s name wrong. It makes her realize her mother isn’t from the U.S. and has an uphill battle for social inclusion.

“In the beginning of the song I yell, “It’s all downhill from here,” and it helps remind me things are getting better for her,” said Stocke.

Stocke and Gilson are originally from Olympia, Washington. They both play drums, guitar and sing, switching off during live sets. The duo have a new album out in August and will be playing the Think and Die Thinking Festival in San Jose on July 11th.

Strauss was excited to record Ragana’s metal in a church, and he thrives off of recording bands live. “What I do best is recording an entire band all live, all at once,” said Strauss. “I had gotten to a point, before I was flooded, where I had enough equipment and microphones set up and dialed in to record any four-piece band coming in who wanted to record live on the spot. As soon as I have a place to do it again, I’m going to set everything up again and just have bands come in and start tracking.”

Until then, Strauss will continue to be flexible about the spaces he works from. He’s open to recording anywhere a band finds.

“I would love for someone to come out and invite me to Tahoe and hang out in their family’s cabin for a week making a record,” said Strauss. “A cool cabin with tall ceilings in the woods. That would be ideal.”

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